The Winnipeg Jets play their first game in two weeks on Sunday afternoon when they open a three-game western road trip with the Pacific Division-leading Vegas Golden Knights in Las Vegas.
The Jets, who enter the contest in fifth place in the Central Division, haven’t played since a 4-2 victory over St. Louis on Dec. 19 because of COVID-19 related cancellations. That’s enabled interim head coach Dave Lowry, who took over when Paul Maurice surprisingly resigned before a 5-2 loss at the Washington Capitals on Dec. 17, to hold a mini training camp with his squad.
Lowry’s main focus was working on net-front scoring and defending.
“The big thing is (the layoff) has allowed us to incorporate more battle drills,” Lowry said. “It has allowed us to work on that detail that sometimes you can’t do because the schedule of games gets stacked up. Guys aren’t super-excited to be battling after games like that. It’s a little hard on the body.”
Working on scoring and preventing “greasy” goals in front of the net is a key for the Jets moving forward.
“Just turn on any game and you look at the offensive zone and the number of bodies in front of net,” Lowry said. “That just tells me that’s where the game is right now. Obviously, with the crackdown on cross-checking it’s allowed players to get to the net. It’s become harder to defend so now what you have to do is find different ways (to score).”
Lowry said his team is looking forward to finally playing another game following the lengthy break. The Jets held another short workout Saturday morning before boarding a plane for Las Vegas and an early noon start on Sunday.
“I think we’re very excited,” Lowry said. “Guys get tired of practicing. They’d much rather play. Just like training camp. You go through the whole process and they’re looking at the calendar and want to play that first game. And I really believe that’s what they’re thinking right now.”
They’ll be facing a Vegas team that has won 10 of its last 12 games including a 3-1 victory over Anaheim on Friday afternoon that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated, thanks to some brilliant goaltending by John Gibson (42 saves). The Golden Knights outshot the Ducks 16-4 while taking a 2-0 lead in the first period and 35-10 over the first two periods. Ryan Getzlaf scored on a power play with 11.4 seconds left to spoil Laurent Brossoit’s bid for his first shutout of the season.
“The main goal is a win, and so that feels good, but of course a shutout would’ve been nice,” said Brossoit who has started the last three games in net for the Golden Knights in place of injured starter Robin Lehner (lower-body).
The Golden Knights have lost just once in their last seven games, a 4-3 home loss to two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay on Dec. 21.
“The team’s feeling really good the last month or so,” said Brossoit. “To cap off the year in a fashion like that couldn’t feel any better.”
This will be the second of eight consecutive home games for Vegas which, thanks to a pair of postponements at Edmonton (Jan. 14) and Calgary (Jan. 15) because of attendance restrictions in Canada, isn’t scheduled to play another road game until Jan. 24 at Washington.
–Field Level Media